Hey guys! So I know serious is not normally my cup of tea, but I've had this idea for a while. I really wanted to show how GI Joe would work in the real world today. Because of that, this story will be fairly graphic regarding violence and depressing situations. No Disney Happy Feet endings for us, guys. I hope this goes well!
HUGE thanks to Karama9 for being a freaking awesome beta!
Ayo froze when he heard harsh banging on the front door.
His mother had told him many hours ago to sleep, that everything would be okay, but no matter how hard he tried to close his eyes and rest, sleep refused to comfort him. He could see his sister in the crib on the other side of the room. She was also awake, her small hand reaching up into the air to grab something unseen. Perhaps sleep was hovering over her instead of Ayo. His mother always told him that sleep was a gift from God, and sometimes you had to try in order to receive it. His sister seemed not to notice the noise from the outside. But Ayo could hear the sharp staccato in the distance. He could hear cries in the night like the moaning spirits in his Grandmother's stories.
He had known something was wrong earlier that day. The neighbors had come by. They had their bags packed. Ayo had peeked around from the hallway, listening in while his sister played with the wooden blocks next to him. The neighbors were leaving, and they wanted Ayo and his sister to go with them. But his mother had said that they would leave tomorrow, and that things would be okay for tonight. His father had taken him aside later and told him to pack some clothing, and that they were going on a trip. His small backpack was still lying against the wall of his room. He had packed everything in there, except for his teddy.
The lights in the hallway flicked on, and he heard the fast footsteps of his father running down the hallway. The banging on the door had gotten louder and Ayo covered his ears, sinking down under the blankets and clutching his teddy. She had promised, she had promised when she tucked him in that everything would be all right. She promised the mean men would not come over to their home.
Shouting. Harsh voices and more banging. His door opened, and his mother put her hand to her lips; the symbol of silence. Her face was drawn and tight, like the time Ayo had fallen from the roof. Father had said back then that she was afraid he was hurt. But Ayo was fine right now. It must be the bad men.
She moved to the crib without turning on the light, her open robe billowing like the fresh sheets on the clothing line that Ayo loved to play around, dancing through them like a tiger hunting his prey. His mother picked up his little sister, cradling her in one arm and reaching for Ayo's hand with the other. The men were still shouting. Ayo could hear his father begging, pleading for the mean men to go. He promised them everything in their home, he promised them the entire home itself. Ayo heard the sharp clatter of glass and a cry from his father. He clasped his mother's hand.
"Please, we will do you no harm, we are not against you, please. Please sir, we don't want trouble!" Ayo caught a glimpse of his father. He was on his knees, palms up toward a man standing above him as if he were praising him. His father's white pajama top stood out against the dark cream of his skin, but Ayo could see a red stain spreading like spilled Kool-Aid on his shoulder.
His mother edged him toward the kitchen, still holding her finger to her lips. Ayo looked out the window as he entered their small tiled kitchen. The lights of their neighbor's home were on. He could see dark shadows like ghosts floating inside. But then someone smashed their neighbor's window, and there was a loud noise and then bright orange glowing lights were rising toward the night sky. Maybe they were trying to catch sleep too.
His mother began pulling out pots from underneath the sink, setting them gently on the ground to make sure they didn't make a sound. Ayo turned around to watch the shadow of his father. He was still on the ground, one hand over his shoulder and the other still raised to the man. Ayo heard the front door opening again and more shadows danced across the wall; more mean men were coming.
"Ayo." His mother had emptied the cabinet under the sink and she guided him in with a shaking hand. "Ayo take Ama. Stay here my child. Everything will be okay."
Ayo was only five, but he knew something was wrong. His mother was crying as she handed him his little sister, her smooth hands shaking as she stood.
"Ayo, do not come out for anything. Stay, I will be back."
The cabinet door was closed, and Ayo was plunged into darkness. The cries of his father were muffled, but the banging seemed to be getting closer. He heard his mother cry out, he heard her beg. He heard her scream and then he heard his father praying. He heard his father talking to his mother, saying that everything would be okay. So much noise; crying and screaming from the streets outside, the faint smell of burning. Ayo looked down at his sister. She looked back at him, eyes bright and nervous.
"It will be okay, Ama. Mama said that it would be okay. The men will go away soon." Ayo heard a loud bang and a groan, and then sobbing. The same sobbing he had heard from his mother when his father told him that his baby brother had gone to Heaven. Why was his mother crying? Ayo opened the cabinet, clutching his sister to his chest.
His mother was on the floor, a man over her, panting like a dog with a blood-smeared face. The man's hands were under his mother's shirt, he had something long and shiny pressed to her throat. It looked like a knife, but it was much bigger than any knife Ayo had ever seen. In the living room, Ayo could see his father also on the ground, although he was no longer begging. A man stood over him as well, also holding a shiny stick. But his was covered with red. Another man was holding a black thing. Ayo had found one when he was playing in the streets with his friends the other day. His father had yelled at him. He said that it was a very bad thing, and that Ayo should not have touched it. He said that it hurt people.
His mother kicked at the man and hit him in between his legs. The man stumbled and she got up, running to the kitchen to reach for her knife that she used to cut the chickens and cook them. It was Ayo's favorite meal.
The man stuck the big knife into his mothers back, and her low guttural scream scared Ayo. He pulled back, closing the cabinet door and huddling into himself, holding his sister tight to his chest.
Ayo could not hear his parents anymore.
But she promised. She had promised.
"She promised, Ama. Mama will come back."
Priya lifted up the mango, feeling the weight of it in her hand. It wasn't often that she went mango shopping. In her town, mangos only came once a year and when they did come, she always made sure she picked the best of the bunch. Only the ripest, fullest mangos were privy to her basket.
The one in her hand felt heavy and juicy, yet firm. She knew how to pick a good mango. When she was a child, her mother used to take her to the markets and show her how to choose the good items so the family would not get sick eating diseased plants. Her mother always told her that the best mango was one that felt heavy and juicy, and yet had skin that was firm and soft.
She missed her mother dearly. She had passed away soon after Priya had been married. The dowry they had to pay had been so great that when her mother fell ill, her parents did not have the money to bring her to a doctor. By the time they had finally asked Priya and her new husband for help, it was too late.
Priya put the mango in her basket, reaching into her pocket to pay the old man at the stand four rupees for each mango. He smiled at her, half of his teeth missing, and thanked her for her purchases. Priya nodded politely and gave him an extra rupee. Her father sold things along this street. He sold small handmade crafts for which people would often bargain a lower price. She knew how a little kindness of one extra rupee could go a long way. Perhaps this man would be able to pay for dinner tonight. Maybe he could get afford to get a gulab jamun for his children.
Down the street, there was a ruckus. She could hear people shouting even though they were far out of her sight. It was nothing out of the ordinary; people were always getting into fights here. She continued to walk down the alley, leaning down to give a piece of her chapatti to a wild dog. The dog's stumpy tail wagged and Priya smiled.
The shouts behind her escalated. Women's screams, that grew into a general panic among the women in the street. People drifted out of the small stands and stood motionless, gazing down the alley. People seemed to stop talking as the screams and shouts grew. The dog beside Priya turned tail and fled, and a cow that had been casually lying on the side of the road rose to its feet with a startled moo and trotted a few feet down. Priya clutched her basket. Maybe she should hurry home.
There was a loud crack, and suddenly the old man who had sold the mangos fell, a gasp frozen on his face as his hands went to clutch his side, fresh blood flowing from a bullet wound.
Hysteria. Panic. The town was crowded enough on market days, with people milling around the flooded streets, touching shoulder to shoulder at all times without the ability to move elsewhere. The shot had sent everyone into frenzy and now people pushed and shoved, trying to avoid the onslaught of bullets raining down on them. But with a street so full of people, every bullet could find a host. Priya was pushed over and she fell, losing grip on her basket and sending mangos tumbling across the road, only to get trampled by the stampede of people. The fall had stunned her; she could feel her lungs burning for air that they could not receive as she struggled to regain some sort of footing without success. There were too many people running around her, too many people falling from shot wounds, screaming and crying as they fell, taking down the people around them.
Someone kicked her in the side and someone else stepped on her leg. Priya cried out, rolling to her side and covering her head and neck to avoid being stepped on. Someone behind her fell, and she took that moment to raise, her strength fueled by unimaginable adrenaline. She fought her way to the other side of the street, collapsing behind a fallen table and holding her knee where a spectacular bruise was forming, so dark that the center was almost black against her tanned skin.
Behind the table, she was further away from the turmoil. But she could see it. The bullets sprayed like a hose from the alley exploding barrels of fruit and destroying storefronts, hitting people in the legs, the sides, the head. The fallen would trip the people who were still running as they tried to escape. Priya reached for her bag, but then realized it was still in the street, being trampled by the city's people. Her cell phone was most likely crushed at this point.
A new sound startled her and she turned to see an elephant that had been named Raj, reeling up on his hind legs, trunk extended into the sky. Raj gave the little children rides and posed with tourists, he had always been so calm, but not in the panic of the moment. He had begun to charge, and it brought a new chill through her spine. A woman who had fallen could not get out of the way in time, and Priya looked away just as Raj's giant foot came down on her. She closed her eyes and cupped her hands over her ears, but the screaming and shouting, the loud crack of guns going off, she could still hear it all.
When she finally opened her eyes, Raj was down the street, leaving behind stomped bodies in the street, more than Priya could count. The shooters were beginning to advance, moving towards her. She caught sight of the tan uniforms, the red stripes on the hats and the polished boots. Her heart thumped in her chest, pounding all invading sounds out of her ears. She could hear her heart working hard. She could feel it.
A ringing sound broke through her heartbeat. A phone. There was a phone nearby.
Trying to avoid catching the eyes of the shooters, she stretched her arm out, shifting through some trash and splintered wood until her hands closed around something small and vibrating. She pulled it to her and opened it, but the line had ended. She stared at the keypad, but was suddenly at a loss.
Who could she call when the police were the ones rioting?
The flames licked at the cloudy night sky with a desperate hunger that Raffi could feel in his own stomach. In a way, he could feel a sort of brotherhood between himself and the fire. Two breathing things, unable to reach what they desperately wanted.
No one else seemed to be enjoying the display of beautiful sparks dancing in the wind. Fire trucks whirred and blared their horns; police men pushed people behind an invisible line of safety, as if they knew the boundaries of what this fire could not reach; what this fire would never get. Firefighters were busy bustling in and out of the enveloped building, some carrying people colored grey from ash, and other carrying nothing but a flagrant disregard for the spirit they were trying to break. They didn't understand that the fire was manmade, born from the wires and circuitry dropped by a skilled pilot. How could humans create something so dangerous, but then squash it, destroy it as if it never had a chance to begin with. Raffi sat at the edge of the street, to the side of the hustle. He just sat and watched, like a parent watching their child sail up so high, only to be brought back down. Many things that parents told their children were a lie anyway. Raffi could not be anyone he wanted to be, although his mother had frequently reminded him that he could. Raffi could believe in himself all he wanted, but he still couldn't make a dollar out of dirt.
Of course, Raffi hadn't called for the air strike. Raffi was a no one. But that didn't stop him from appreciating the beauty. There was elegance in fire that he couldn't see in anything else.
The air raid sirens still blared. In the distance he could hear more bombs dropping, the explosions and screams. He could feel the rumbling of the earth as it groaned under the pressure of the flames and bursts of energy. Fires spread like a disease through his city. They lit the sky, covering the stars with a mixture of light and smoke.
The city was falling. He could feel fear pulsing through his veins like a drug. There had been no warning. Raffi hadn't even realized that it was a possibility. He did not know who was attacking them, but the planes flew overhead, now joined by Italy's own planes, the finest there was.
Raffi could not tell who was attacking. He had heard speculation from the people that he had passed by. Some said it was Turkey, others said Austria. He even heard one man who had screamed into the sky, cursing France and its inhabitants. But he could not find a reason for any of them. Sure, Italy had never been on fantastic terms with these countries, but an unprovoked attack?
People rushed past him, running to the outskirts of the city, carrying whatever they could, precious pictures, a treasured stuffed animal, a child. Even the firefighters were leaving, realizing that this was one fire (or several) that they could not put out.
"Help! Someone help! My baby!"
Raffi watched a woman step forward from the crowd, running towards the flames. She was waving her hands up high above her head, her face smudged with ash. A fireman went to grab at her shoulders to pull her back, but she wrenched through. Herculean powers stirred in her as the roar of the water hoses drowned the cries of her child out.
Before she could reach into the flames, however, an unseen force collapsed her, and she crumpled to her knees. Raffi had never heard such cries of anguish, and seemed to remember a time when he might have felt that way about his own family. Raffi saw a fireman give a signal to pull back. This fire had gotten too dangerous for anyone to go inside, and they would have to accept the child as a loss.
But a life was a terrible thing to lose, and Raffi was more than happy to relinquish his own to save the burning child in the fire. What good was he to the world anyway? Sitting and watching was not what he was meant to do with his life. He was meant for something greater. Something better! Maybe saving this kid was it. Maybe he could finally be the hero.
A rush of heat, the stab of ashes against the soft tissue of his throat. A blinding light blurred his vision; the sound of the collapsing building set him away from the world. Suddenly, Raffi felt very alone. No one would come for him. No one would follow him into the fire.
No one would follow anyone into a fire. People don't follow others into fires. They bring people out of them. No one willingly walks into a burning building.
A faint cry, a cough, a shuffle of the ashes by the edges of his vision. A desperate sound, like the mewling of a newborn kitten. Strange it must be, to be born into a fire. But Raffi knew; everyone was born to flame, pushed to the smoke.
Raffi reached lower, avoiding the heavy smoke above him, the crumbling wood around him. He reached for the outstretched hand of the little girl. Her skin was soft but thick, like the sand on the beach, damp from the frequent spray of the Ocean. He could feel the sand; feel it stretched along his skin like wet spandex.
The girl coughed in his arms, and Raffi held her closer to him. He hoped she would survive. He hoped he could get her out. They could put this feeble life on oxygen; they could stick her with a needle. They could save her.
A moment of jealousy. They would save her. The medics, the firefighters. Not a poor homeless man who had run into an engorged building to save her. But that jealousy was gone when he emerged from the building and he saw the mother's face filled with disbelief and unbridled joy, like a hand around his heart. The hand squeezed, and Raffi shuddered. He dropped the girl; deposited her into a practiced medic's arms. Somewhere in that time his knees had hit the ground, and his hands sunk into that warm beach sand.
Talking. Screaming. Shouting. The stab of a needle into his arm. The cold mask pushed against his face. Lifted out of that warm beach sand, and dropped onto a cold metal stretcher.
"What's your name?" A man's face in his burning vision. The pain as his eyes struggled to focus. His name. He seemed to remember having a name.
The man continued to ask him questions, but Raffi couldn't remember. Who was he? What had he done? Where had the beach gone?
"You're a hero."
"Gentlemen, we've got a situation."
The president placed his hands on the worn podium. He had stood at its wooden helm many times, and he knew the strength that it brought people like himself. Behind the podium, he would be safe.
"Yesterday morning, groups of rebels in Africa began to mobilize against small villages and towns, but are moving closer and closer to key cities as we speak. We haven't been able to get through their barrier, but reports are coming in from several places depicting gangs of people terrorizing the civilians. They have made no demands. A few hours later, the police in India staged an attack at the Jhalawar marketplace, where casualties are approximately 320 and still rising by the minute. Last night, there was an air raid over Rome in Italy. This attack was led by a terrorist group in France that has yet to be named, and they have no clear motive either."
"We have no control over the country!" The ambassador from India stood, pounding his fist into the table as people turned to pay attention to him. "Without the police, there is less order than there has ever been! And there is no force to stop them with the armies siding with them! We are asking for help to get this under control before more lives are lost! None of the cities are safe anymore, people are fleeing the country!"
"We ask for assistance as well." The ambassador from Zimbabwe stood, holding his head high despite the terror and chaos his country was in. "We have so many separate incidents all over Zimbabwe, even all over Africa. There is simply no way to spread our resources so thin as to be able to stop them all."
"Italy is not in the best condition right now." The Italian minister stood as well, gesturing with his hands in an outward arc displaying understanding. "We lost many key cities in the bombings, and many of our aircraft and war materials have been destroyed. There are still continuing attacks now as we speak! This must be brought under control."
There was a moment of chatter in the room, like a low tremor before an earthquake. The potential recipe for disaster; countries would have to choose who to support. There was no right decision.
"What I would like to know is why now? These attacks have very little in common and no motive. And very, very little money. How did they afford all these things? Planes are not cheap and neither are industrial bombers." The British representative pointed to a screen where various pictures were being displayed. "These are better weapons than are readily available. The attack plans are not random and unorganized as violence normally is. What is going on?"
The President nodded and motioned for the French ambassador to rise.
"We did some looking into this terrorist group as soon as we heard of it." The French ambassador turned to the Italian. "This was by no means instigated by the French government, and we offer our condolences for what has been done and we assure you that every effort is being implemented to track these terrorists down." He cleared his throat and motioned to the screen. "We have looked into some security cameras around the streets that we believe have high terrorist activity." On screen, the image of a tall, black haired woman walking past a meter maid appeared. The shot was blurry, perhaps taken by a convenience store camera that was angled outside, but the President recognized the woman as the Baroness almost instantly.
"This woman is connected to a terrorist group named Cobra. It is our belief that somehow, Cobra is funding the attacks. The reason for this is still unclear, but as I said, we are continuing to look into it."
"What do you suggest we do while you look into it?" The Indian ambassador shook his head. "We have no armies. I urge the UN to mobilize, to attempt to get some sort of control in our cities. In all of our countries."
The President shook his head. If this was heading down the road he thought it was, then more than UN Peacekeepers would be needed.
"Call in the Joes."
Tell me what you think, this is my first shot at a story like this! I hope you enjoyed!